HL Deb 03 November 1965 vol 269 cc863-8

Clause 37, page 22, line 33, leave out from "London" to end of line 34, and insert "£350, in the Special Review Areas in England and Wales (as defined by section 17(1)(a) and (2), section 25 and the Third Schedule to the Local Government Act 1958) £200, and elsewhere in Great Britain £150;"

The Commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason:

Because the Amendment would deny to certain lessees the protection of the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act 1946.


My Lords, if the House is so minded, I suggest that it will be convenient to take all these Amendments together. Therefore, I should like to move that the House do not insist on their Amendments Nos. 1 to 5, to which the Commons have disagreed.

These Amendments have been fully argued. In many cases the questions in the Amendments have been argued from the beginning of the Bill in another place until its very last stages here. I think I should be trespassing on the time of the House if I were to repeat those arguments in any detail. There are, however, one or two broad considerations. We have been advised by the felicitious combination of St. Paul and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that we should differ from the Commons only when a trumpet calls. There is no great trumpet about these Amendments, and there is unlikely to be. They all raise points which, although of importance, and although a fit and proper subject for discussion, do not by themselves involve any deep questions of principle.

The fact of the matter is that this Bill endeavours to strike a balance between the owner of property and the occupier of property. That is, perhaps, essential in any Rent Bill. It is quite natural that there should be different views on where the balance should be struck. These are, as I said the other day on the Motion "That the Bill do now pass", constructive Amendments, in the sense that they put forward views from the other side of the House which were by a majority the views of the House, but a view with which the Commons have now disagreed. The Amendments were all, to put the matter very shortly, more in favour of the owners of the property than of the occupiers.

This is a difficult question. There are many ways of holding houses, and there are many cases to be provided for in a Bill of this sort. There is room not only for the benefit of experience but for a genuine difference of opinion. That is what these Amendments represented, and I suggest to your Lordships that on a Rent Bill involving human relations, as Rent Bills are bound to do, involving difficult and sometimes rather technical questions, we should be slow to attempt to carry too far our differences with another place. After all, there is room for an elected assembly to represent views, which may often be local views, which may sometimes be individual views, but which certainly have behind them at least as great a wealth of experience as we can muster in this House.

I should like to take the occasion, without going into any of the Amendments in detail at this hour, to repeat the thanks I gave to those noble Lords who offered the benefit of their advice and experience during the progress of the Bill. I assure them that I do not agree with them a bit over these Amendments. I never have; I have said so several times. But I do understand what they mean. They are perfectly clear, they are thoroughly arguable, and they represent at the end of it all a real difference of opinion about balance—balance between these two people: the owner of a property and the occupier of it—in a Bill which, by and large, I think the House has accepted as a good Bill.

Not only have noble Lords opposite accepted it as a good Bill, but they were very insistent at an early stage that this Bill should be put into operation as soon as possible. I entirely agree. I tried to give the House some information the other day as to the preparatory steps which have already been taken. Whatever one's opinion on questions such as are raised in these Amendments, I think we can all agree that a long delay at this stage would indeed do a very great deal of harm. Therefore, since the effect of not agreeing might be to lead to a delay of that kind, I urge your Lordships to accept the Commons' rejection of these Amendments; that is to say, not to insist on the five Amendments which we arc now considering.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on the Amendments to which the Commons have disagreed.—(Lord Mitchison.)

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, I should be the first to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, that these five Amendments which the other place has rejected have no great trumpet about them. Nevertheless, I do not think the noble Lord will be surprised when I say that I am disappointed that the Commons thought it appropriate to reject our Amendments. Therefore, I suppose what I have to do now is to give my advice, for what it is worth, as to what this House should do, and that advice is of course that your Lordships should not insist upon these Amendments.

I still consider, as I have all along, that they were improvements to the Bill, although they were not of the first importance. If we were to insist upon them now, of course the Bill would be lost in this Session, which I do not think anybody wants, and certainly I do not want that myself. I think, all the same, that this House was right to discharge one of its constitutional functions of acting as a revising Chamber, which is what we did during the earlier proceedings on this Bill, thereby giving the other place a chance to have second thoughts about matters upon which we, in the Opposition, at any rate, thought differently from them. I think that anyone who has read the proceedings on our Amendments in the other place, as I have, would probably agree that the other place welcomed this opportunity. I noted, for instance, with considerable interest, that the other place spent an hour and a half on debating Amendment No. 3, which is the one dealing with recovery of possession of a dwelling-house for residence by the owner or his widow.

I rather took exception to a statement made in another place by Mr. Eric Lubbock, the Liberal Member, that we, the Opposition in this House, had displayed what he called "pigheaded obstinacy" by insisting on Amendment No. 1 when the other place had had quite enough discussion already about the rateable value limits. Surely, it is not for us to make up our minds as to whether the other place has sufficiently discussed any subject. I thought that that observation coming from Mr. Lubbock was all the more remarkable when one remembered that the noble Lord in this House who was strongest in his criticism of the Bill was the Liberal Peer, the noble Lord, Lord Meston, The noble Lord, Lord Meston, said on Second Reading—and he followed immediately after me—that the Bill was a mistake, and that there should be no further extension of rent restriction. Nobody else was anything like so scathing in his criticism of the Bill as the noble Lord, Lord Meston, and after his speech I rather hoped that we were going to have the assistance of the Liberal Party in this House in trying to improve the Bill. That was, of course, a vain hope, because apart from one exception when the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, supported us in one Division, the noble Lords of the Liberal Party voted solidly against us. I suppose that to say one thing and to do another is as good a way as any of having the best of all possible worlds.

I think I should also repudiate the suggestion that was made in another place that we wasted time on the Bill in this House with a view to delaying its passage. All I would say about that is that it really was not our fault that the Report stage was taken on the last sitting day before the Summer Recess, which made it quite impossible for your Lordships' House to complete proceedings on the Bill before the Recess. The real trouble, of course, was that the Bill arrived at your Lordships' House so very late in this Session.

I am not going to rehash the arguments again, any more than the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, did, but I would make just two points. I do not want to disturb the very harmonious relationship which appears to be prevailing in your Lordships' Chamber at the moment, but I really do not think that the Government have come out of their activities on the matter with which Amendment No. 3 deals with great credit to them. That is the Amendment which was designed to try to give special protection to the man who buys a house against his retirement. They said, time and time again, that they accepted in principle that it was a desirable thing to do if a suitable formula could be found but they could not find one. That is really something which I find it very hard to believe: that Her Majesty's Government, with all the resources they have behind them, really could not find a way acceptable to them of doing something of which they approved in principle. I do not want to offend the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, by making any observations about his views on this particular clause, but I noticed with great pleasure that the Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. MacColl, said in the other place of my new clause that this represents the best attempt that could be made to deal with an admittedly difficult problem".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 718 (No. 174), col. 730; November 1, 1965.] That gladdened my heart.

The only other point I want to make is this. The Reason given by the other place for Mr. Crossman's advising that other place to reject Amendment No. 4, which is the Amendment to require the court to consider whether the occupier, if he was an agricultural worker, has found employment other than as an agricultural worker, is that the Amendment is unnecessary. My Lords, if you read what Mr. Crossman said you will see that the word "unnecessary" did not cross his lips at all. In fact, what he argued was that he had thought a good deal about this particular Amendment but the trouble about it was that it would create grave suspicion in the trade unions. That, no doubt, is a valid reason from the point of view of his rejecting it, but I should have thought it a very different reason from saying that the Amendment is not necessary. My Lords, that is all I want to say. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, for his kindly references at the end of his speech. I think we should now leave the Bill where it is, and wish it success.

7.21 p.m.


My Lords, I do not know whether it would be kinder to the House to reply very shortly or not to reply at all, but perhaps the more courteous course is just to say, as regards the two Amendments mentioned by the noble Lord, that, on the first one, I think the Commons Reason is itself a sufficient answer. The Amendment goes much too far and does not really cover retirement specifically, although it may include it. On the second one, the words to which the noble Lord objected are, of course, related to the language of the clause itself, which enjoins the court to consider all the circumstances and then merely particularises two. In this respect, and in others, there are questions of balance between the two parties in the Bill, on which one side of the House here and the other side in another place have, not unnaturally, differed—and those differences are represented by these Amendments. I think we are right, if I may say so, to let the Commons have their way on this matter and not to insist; and it is not for me to reconcile the Conservative and the Liberal Parties in this matter.

Perhaps I might be allowed to express some doubt about a single phrase used by a Conservative when discussing this Bill. A leading member of that Party referred to the "young and sprightly Parliamentary Secretary in the Lords". He cannot have meant "young", and that makes me wonder whether he meant sprightly.

On Question, Motion agreed to.